It seems that we are nearing the end of the golden age of television comedians; Louis Nye is the latest to leave us.
Louis Nye, 92, a straight-faced comic actor whose television career spanned a half-century, died of lung cancer Oct. 9 at his home in Los Angeles.
Mr. Nye became nationally known as an ensemble player on “The Steve Allen Show” from 1956 to 1961, portraying a range of characters with various accents and personal foibles. His best-known role was probably as Gordon Hathaway, a smug country-club braggart whose overweening pretensions were skewered repeatedly.
It was in the character of Hathaway that Nye unctuously would address Allen as “Hi-ho, Steverino,” which became something of a catchphrase in the 1950s. Allen even used it as the title of one of his books.
Mr. Nye, who pronounced his first name “Louie,” always considered himself an actor rather than a comedian, yet he had a long career as a stand-up comic, recorded several comedy albums and appeared as a guest on countless situation comedies. He had a recurring role as Sonny Drysdale, the spoiled son of a banker, on the first season of “The Beverly Hillbillies” in 1962. From 2000 to 2002, he played the father of actor Jeff Garlin on the HBO comedy series “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
Often portraying bemused, blissfully unaware characters, Mr. Nye was a classic second banana who excelled in comedy sketches. His comedy was not about telling jokes but relied more on his finely gauged facial expressions, vocal sounds and accents. (He claimed to have mastered at least 15 ethnic accents.)
On Allen’s show, he was part of a stellar cast that included Don Knotts, Tom Poston and Bill Dana. In his “man-in-the-street” interviews with Mr. Nye, Allen elicited often unintentionally comic answers, many of which were improvised. Mr. Nye’s responses often had Allen doubled over in laughter, but he was known for never cracking a smile himself.
“Louis Nye never laughed on stage in his life,” Poston told the Chicago Tribune in 1985. “We once did a whole ‘Steve Allen Show’ to break him up and nothing would do it. No matter what, he stayed in character.”